Wolf orders some Pa. agencies to ‘ban the box’

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     Gov. Tom Wolf announces that Pennsylvania will will stop asking about prior criminal history on state employment applications during a press conference at Surge Recovery in Philadelphia's Point Breeze neighborhood. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    Gov. Tom Wolf announces that Pennsylvania will will stop asking about prior criminal history on state employment applications during a press conference at Surge Recovery in Philadelphia's Point Breeze neighborhood. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    Starting July 1, nearly 40 Pennsylvania state agencies will no longer ask some job-seekers about their criminal histories — at least, not right off the bat.

    Gov. Tom Wolf signed an executive order Friday removing questions about criminal history from job applications at the state agencies under his jurisdiction, including the Departments of Health, Environmental Protection and Transportation.

    The policy only applies to non-civil service positions and makes exceptions for jobs that, by law, are off limits to people with criminal convictions, as well as law enforcement and other positions that deal with protecting people and property.

    Wolf, who has asked the state’s Civil Service Commission to consider adopting the policy,  is encouraging other independent agencies to do the same.

    During a press conference announcing the executive order at an addiction recovery house South Philadelphia, the governor said hiring managers will still be able to screen applicants and discuss their backgrounds.

    “What we don’t want is for someone to have this eternal blemish on his or her record that says, ‘I am not going to have a job interview because I checked that box,’ ” Wolf said. “Just get rid of it.”

    Roughly 3 million Pennsylvanians have criminal records, according to the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank.

    Democratic state Rep. Jordan Harris said these “ban-the-box” laws help pull people out of the cycle of poverty and incarceration. 

    “The goal of this is that they can apply for employment with the commonwealth and not be prejudged,” Harris said. “If they get that job, for many of them we will automatically be lifting people out of poverty and changing the course of not only their lives, but their children’s lives.”

    Harris said Wolf’s order is one step to larger, bipartisan reforms working their way through the state Legislature. A group of lawmakers are planning to re-introduce a pair of “clean slate” bills in the Pennsylvania House and Senate that would automatically seal criminal records for people convicted of low-level, nonviolent crimes after a set period of time.

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